[As usual, for correct and critical edition of this letter see Mehew 6, 2123.]
To John Addington Symonds [Colvin 1911, 3, pp. 89-91]
[Tautira] November 11th, 1888
One November night, in the village of Tautira, we sat at the high table in the hall of assembly, hearing the natives sing.
It was dark in the hall, and very warm; though at times the land wind blew a little shrewdly through the chinks, and at times, through the larger openings, we could see the moonlight on the lawn.
As the songs arose in the rattling Tahitian chorus, the chief translated here and there a verse.
Farther on in the volume you shall read the songs themselves; and I am in hopes that not you only, but all who can find a savour in the ancient poetry of places, will read them with some pleasure. You are to conceive us, therefore, in strange circumstances and very pleasing; in a strange land and climate, the most beautiful on earth;
surrounded by a foreign race that all travellers have agreed to be the most engaging; and taking a double interest in two foreign arts.
We came forth again at last, in a cloudy moonlight, on the forest lawn which is the street of Tautira.
The Pacific roared outside upon the reef.
Here and there one of the scattered palm-built lodges shone out under the shadow of the wood, the lamplight bursting through the crannies of the wall.
We went homeward slowly, Ori a Ori carrying behind us the lantern and the chairs, properties with which we had just been enacting our part of the distinguished visitor.
It was one of those moments in which minds not altogether churlish recall the names and deplore the absence of congenial friends; and it was your name that first rose upon our lips.
‘How Symonds would have enjoyed this evening!’ said one, and then another. The word caught in my mind; I went to bed, and it was still there. The glittering, frosty solitudes in which your days are cast arose before me: I seemed to see you walking there in the late night, under the pine-trees and the stars; and I received the image with something like remorse.
There is a modern attitude towards Fortune; in this place I will not use a graver name. Staunchly to withstand her buffets and to enjoy with equanimity her favours was the code of the virtuous of old. Our fathers, it should seem, wondered and doubted how they had merited their misfortunes: we, rather how we have deserved our happiness. And we stand often abashed, and sometimes revolted, at those partialities of fate by which we profit most. It was so with me on that November night: I felt that our positions should be changed. It was you, dear Symonds, who should have gone upon that voyage and written this account. With your rich stores of knowledge, you could have remarked and understood a thousand things of interest and beauty that escaped my ignorance; and the brilliant colours of your style would have carried into a thousand sickrooms the sea air and the strong sun of tropic islands.
It was otherwise decreed. But suffer me at least to connect you, if only in name and only in the fondness of imagination, with the voyage of the Silver Ship.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Dear Symonds, I send you this (November 11th) the morning of its completion. If I ever write an account of this voyage, may I place this letter at the beginning?
It represents – I need not tell you, for you too are an artist – a most genuine feeling, which kept me long awake last night; and though perhaps a little elaborate, I think it a good piece of writing. We are in heaven here. Do not forget.
Please keep this: I have no perfect copy.
Tautira, on the peninsula of Taiti.